Exclusive Q&A with Divergent editor Molly O'Neill

Posted May 19, 2011 by Sara | Novel Novice 2 Comments

We often interview authors here at Novel Novice, but we’re always curious about the “behind the scenes” of getting a book made. After an author has written the book (and gotten an agent & sold it), what happens next?

So today it’s a real treat for us to bring you an exclusive Q&A with Molly O’Neill, the editor who snatched up the rights to Divergent by Veronica Roth. And what a smart grab that was! Divergent is getting lots of well-deserved buzz, including as our book of the month.

Here’s more with Molly about what sold her on Divergent, and what it was like editing such a great book:

When you first started reading DIVERGENT, what was it that really sold you on it?

Right away, within the first two pages of the manuscript, I could tell that the voice was something powerful, and something special. At the beginning of the book, Beatrice’s simple, forthright, and carefully-controlled tone is such a perfect echo of the Abnegation faction that surrounds her; later, as she finds more freedom, so do her thoughts and her sentence structure. I knew right away that it was a talented writer who could make the voice and the story mirror one another so perfectly. Also, I loved that Veronica Roth took a couple of very simple philosophical questions and explored them as completely as possible, and from every possible point on the spectrum, giving readers much to think deeply about, even in the midst of such a high-action story.

What do you think sets DIVERGENT apart from the other dystopian books in YA right now?

Well, I haven’t read all the other dystopians out there, so I’m not sure I’m totally qualified to answer that question. But I can tell you that when I first acquired DIVERGENT, there were several elements that I really appreciated about it, and now I’m seeing readers react positively to those same things, too.

First, the romance isn’t the top layer of the story. DIVERGENT is a story about Tris making a dramatic choice about her life, and as one of the many results of that choice, romance emerges—as do other friendships, challenges, and new experiences galore. I like that it’s not the romance that’s driving the plot, it’s Tris herself.

Second, I really appreciated that there’s not a love triangle in DIVERGENT—frankly, I’m not sure this story could have handled any more tension! More than that, though, it was refreshing to me to see a romance that focused on the high stakes found in a single relationship’s growth, rather than on the confusion and muddled feelings of a love triangle.

And third, I love the theme of choice at the core of DIVERGENT, which we echoed in the book’s tagline: One Choice Can Transform You. Choice is a universal part of being human, which is part of what I suspect makes DIVERGENT compelling to so many different kinds of readers. Who hasn’t made a choice that felt like it had the potential to change every moment thereafter, whether it was a choice about identity or friendship or activities or love? That sort of epic urgency about decision-making will feel particularly familiar to teen readers, I think—so much of everyday teenage life feels fraught with high-stakes choices around every turn—and to any reader who remembers being a teen, too.

What was the process like working on DIVERGENT?

It was a wonderful experience of watching an amazing story transform into an even more amazing story. At one point, after several intense rounds of revision, I told Veronica that I was tempted to continue sending the manuscript back to her in perpetuity, because she was making it so much more awesome with each stage. (I think she’s glad that I didn’t, though.) It was also a fantastic experience within HarperCollins—everyone, from copyeditors to marketing to designers to subrights to our social media team and on and on—was so enthusiastic about working on DIVERGENT, which made me even more excited for this moment: when we’d finally get to share the result of all that hard work with readers.

Anything you can tell us about the next book?

Not yet…except to say that I think that amazing and unexpected twists are one of Veronica’s hallmarks as a writer!

What’s the one part of the process from editing DIVERGENT that you’d most like to share with readers?

Hmmm…maybe the interesting tidbit that the Erudite weren’t always the Erudite? Their name changed several times in the editing process, but now I can’t imagine them as anything else. Oh, and I also like to point out that Evil-Molly wasn’t named after me in a fit of rage after receiving an editorial letter (or so my author assures me). 🙂

If you had to choose, which faction would you join?

I love this question and feel like I could talk about it all day with readers! I say that I was probably born Abnegation, but changed factions and chose Candor.

Thanks so much Molly for answering all our questions, and to Allison at HarperTeen for arranging this interview!

Sara | Novel Novice
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2 responses to “Exclusive Q&A with Divergent editor Molly O'Neill

  1. JanetReid

    DAUNTLESS!!!

    The only thing missing from Divergent is a shark. Molly, could you please correct that egregious error in Book 2?

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